Thursday, September 8, 2016

Summer in the Keys

This summer I had the awesome opportunity to do research in the Florida Keys with the Conservation of Marine Resources Team for the whole summer. In addition to helping Kylie with all of the work she does each summer, I got to carry out my own independent project for my Departmental Honors research. This project focuses on a small little fish called the neon goby. The neon goby is a cleaner fish that eats parasites off of other reef fish, providing nourishment for the goby and health benefits for the client fish. The goal of the project is to determine the effects that neon goby presence can have on the presence of other reef fish, specifically the parrotfish that Kylie studies and the damselfish that Randi studies. The idea is that the presence of gobies influences the abundance and diversity of other fish species, and this influence can  affect the health of the corals in the reef. I carried out many surveys and counts of gobies, parrotfishes, and damselfishes, and I also took many videos using GoPro cameras of goby cleaning stations. This data will be analyzed in the Fall and Spring and formed into a thesis that I will use for Departmental Honors in Biology. Getting to carry out my own field research in the Keys was an amazing experience, one that I never imagined I would get to have during my time as an undergraduate. Living and working in the Keys provides all sorts of new things to learn. After a summer of diving almost every day, I feel much more confident in my diving abilities than I did going into the summer. I gained more experience driving boats, freediving, and in identifying the many species that inhabit coral reefs. I also got to have many unique experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. One of my favorites was when a young green sea turtle swam up next to our boat to check us out. When I saw it, I grabbed a GoPro and jumped in the water to take some pictures. Instead of swimming off like I expected, the turtle just continued to swim around the boat and I was able to swim next to it and take pictures. Another of my favorite experiences was going on a night dive to tag parrotfish. This was the first night dive I had ever been on. The goal was to find a redband parrotfish and tag it with an acoustic tag to track its movements. To find the parrotfish, we had to swim around the reef and look up underneath corals with our flashlights since they hide themselves away to sleep at night. I had a hard time focusing on finding the parrotfish because there were so many other cool things to see at night. All sorts of invertebrates that you rarely see during the day come out at night, so every time I looked underneath a coral I saw a new crab or shrimp that I had never seen before. Diving at night can be a bit nervewracking, but it was also beautiful to see how different things are in the dark. This summer was definitely one of the best summers I've had, and I can't wait for our next trip to the Keys in October.

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